Perito Moreno, South Patagonia Icefields
Visiting Perito Moreno in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, is a top trip in South America. The third largest body of ice on the planet and totally different from any icefield in that it is one of the few glaciers that continues to grow. The Icefield is 378 km long and around 8 km wide. It formed as a low gap in the Andes, allowing moisture laden Pacific storms to drop their load east of the divide, where they accumulated as snow. Over millennia and under tremendous weight, this snow has recrystallised into ice and flows slowly eastward.
You can stay either in nearby El Calafate, a town that offers numerous excursions to the glacier or stay in the National Park Los Glaciares at a hotel called Los Notros, a semi-luxurious place that sits high on a slope and looks straight out at the Perito Moreno Glacier across Largo Argentino.
The Perito Moreno is a finger off the main icefield and few of natural wonders of South America are as spectacular or as easily accessible as this. Unlike the hundreds of glaciers that drain off the main icefield, it is one of the few that is not receding. Despite losing an estimated 378 cubic kilometers of ice each year, it is in balance; pretty amazing as it takes 10 years for snow to compress to ice to replace the lost volume. And do not get the impression that it is small because it is possible to fit the entire city of Buenos Aires on this glacier.
The wall of ice is 60 metres high, rising above the water in a solid white wall that finishes in jagged peaks and oddly angled frozen structures. All the time there are cracks like gunfire and muffled explosions as the ice splits and crevasses as it reaches the warmer temperatures of the lake. Without warning great chunks of ice the size of buildings, slip or crash into the waters. In some ways, watching the glacier is a very sedentary experience but the noise of cracking ice is somewhat disconcerting as the leading edge of the icefield splits into deep ravines before toppling into the lake with a roar. The surprise was how much water was running everywhere. Little streams all over the surface, cutting into the ice and disappearing down deep sink-holes were most common.
Take a walk on top of the glacier that involves strapping on crampons and crunching your way up and down the uneven surface of the ice. Enjoy the challenge of getting used to the heavy, inflexible crampons then walking downhill without falling over. It won’t be long before you master the technique of taking small steps and keeping our feet flat at all times. Just like penguins! Walking on top of the glacier gives a perspective of how large it is and how uneven its surface and most excursions are topped off a whiskey on 1,000 year-old ‘rocks’.
There is also a constructed walkway on the peninsula opposite the glacier along the width of its face and through natural beech forest. The numerous viewpoints are cleverly positioned to allow us to see along the top as well as right up against the different sides of the ice. A lovely walk will take nearly three hours to complete giving a truly unforgettable and spellbinding experience. A wonderful place and a taste of what any trip to the Antarctic would be like.